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Penn History

Selected Class Histories College Class of 1811 Students of the College Class of 1811

This exhibit was researched and prepared by Mary D. McConaghy, November 2010.

Student Backgrounds

The members of the College Class of 1811 were quite young compared to college students today. Birth dates are available for 17 of the 21 graduates of this class, and at the time of their entry into the College in the fall of 1808, they ranged in age from 12 years to 19 years. Their mean age at matriculation was 16 years, with a dozen of them falling in the 15 to 17 year old range. Since the college course lasted just three years, these young men were, on average, age 19 at the time of graduation, with the youngest only 15 and the oldest 22 years old.

Geographically these young men were drawn from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Eight lived in the city of Philadelphia, and one from a country estate in what was then Philadelphia county, but now is northeast Philadelphia. Four young men came from Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and two from Newcastle, Delaware. The other six students were all from Maryland: Baltimore and Prince George’s county on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, Somerset and Talbot counties on the eastern shore. Since there were no dormitories on campus until the 1890s, the students coming from outside the city would have had to live with friends or extended family or as boarders in some respectable establishment.

Many of the members of this class came from prominent families.

Among the group from Philadelphia, Richard Biddle, the youngest member of the Class of 1811, was the son of Charles Biddle, wealthy merchant, vice-president (equivalent of lieutenant-governor) of Pennsylvania, and trustee of the University of Pennsylvania; Richard’s brother Nicholas Biddle had entered the College at age ten as a member of the Class of 1799. Charles Pemberton Fox was the son of George Fox, member of the Pennsylvania assembly, College Class of 1780 and later trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Gratz was the son of wealthy Jewish merchant, Michael Gratz; his older sister Rebecca Gratz, already a noted philanthropist by 1811, would later gain fame as the inspiration for the heroine of Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe”. Joseph Patterson Engles was the son of Silas Engles, a militia captain during the Revolution and apparently a printer in Philadelphia. Isaac Clarkson Snowden’s father, Isaac Snowden, a man of commerce, had served as treasurer of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and as an elder in the Presbyterian Church; interestingly, in 1815 Isaac Clarkson Snowden’s sister Mary married his Rev. Samuel Blanchard How, also a member of the College Class of 1811. The Irish-born Samuel Wylie came to the United States at the age of 17 in 1807; his uncle Rev. Samuel Brown Wylie had come to America in 1799, became pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1803, joined the faculty of the new Theological Seminary there in 1810; he would later (in 1828) join the University of Pennsylvania faculty. Lynford Lardner was named after his grandfather, who was a brother-in-law of Richard Penn, a member of the Governor’s council and trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. This Lynford Lardner built the family’s country estate of “Somerset” in what is now the Tacony section of northeast Philadelphia; his son John Lardner (a Revolutionary War supporter and soldier and later member of the Pennsylvania legislature) became the father of the Lynford Lardner in the Class of 1811. The backgrounds of only two Philadelphia lads, Samuel Blanchard How and Richard Wood Clement, remain unclear.

At least three of the four class members hailing from Lancaster county came from prominent families. George Duffield was raised by his paternal grandfather, chaplain of the first United States Congress. Samuel Duffield was the son of William Bryant Duffield, M.D., who had graduated from the College as a member of the Class of 1786. Clement Adam Buckley was the son of Daniel Buckley, a prominent iron master and member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The background of Thomas M. Ross remains obscure.

Not much is known about the background of Joseph Barr and Robert B. Belville, both from Delaware’s Newcastle county.

As for the six young men from Maryland, Thomas King Carroll, the son of Colonel Henry James Carroll, was a member of one of Maryland’s most prominent families. James Tilghman also came from a wealthy and distinguished Maryland family; his father, also James Tilghman (1748-1809), a College graduate in the Class of 1766, studied law and served as Chief Justice of the Second Judicial district of Maryland from 1791 until 1804. Richard DeButts, another student coming from Maryland, was the son of Irish-born Samuel DeButts, M.D. Little is known about the backgrounds of Thomas P. Bennett, Alfred Henry Dashiell, Rider Henry Radcliffe.

1811 Commencement

Commencement occurred on May 30 of 1811. The University trustees led off by leading a procession from the Ninth Street campus to “Independent Tabernacle. ” According to Scharf and Westcott’s History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, the Independent Tabernacle Church, chartered in 1807, had been formed by a group of English independents who had withdrawn in 1804 from the Second Presbyterian Church. This congregation, led by Rev. John Hey, quickly raised the funds to build a sixty by ninety foot church on the east side of Fourth Street, between Market and Chestnut streets; this church opened January 5, 1806. The College had no graduating class in 1806 or 1809; but University trustees approved the use of Independent Tabernacle for the College commencements of July 1807, July 1808, June 1810, and May 1811.

The bulk of the commencement ceremonies were taken up with student orations. Thomas P. Bennett, from Easton, Maryland, gave the valedictory oration. Orations were also given by fifteen others out of the graduating class of twenty students, leaving only five graduates who did not speak. One oration consisted of a poem on the pleasure of variety; two others, one entitled “The Projector” and another in defense of dwelling, were ironical in tone. The other dozen orations were devoted to the topics of ambition, character, sensibility and the immortality of the soul; of eloquence, of fine arts, and the pleasures of variety and of rural life; the schools of ancient Greece and Rome, classical education, modern improvements in education, the education of women, and the future prospects of the United States.

Earlier in the year, at the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, senior Alfred H. Dashiell had delivered an oration at the Hermean Society at the University of Pennsylvania; this oration was published in Philadelphia that year and is available at the University Archives.

Lives after College

From the evidence we have for sixteen graduates of the College Class of 1811, these young men went on to pursue professions in three different categories: as clergymen and educators, as lawyers and politicians, or as physicians. One other, Richard DeButts died in 1816, only five years after graduation. No information has been found regarding the post-college lives of the other four (the valedictory speaker Thomas P. Bennett, plus Charles Pemberton Fox, Rider Henry Radcliffe, and Thomas M. Ross).

Seven members of the class entered professions connected with religion, mostly the Presbyterian denomination. Joseph Patterson Engles became a publishing agent of the Presbyterian church as well as a teacher. The other six were all ordained clergyman, with four of them also working in education. Samuel Blanchard How, a pastor in the Reformed Dutch church, had churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and New York City, before becoming president in Dickinson College in 1832. The other five ministers were all Presbyterians:

  • Joseph Barr was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1812 after studying theology under Rev. James Latta and James P. Wilson, Barr; he spent the rest of his life serving a variety of rural churches outside of Philadelphia and in Delaware.
  • Robert B. Belville was first a teacher at academies in Wilmington, Delaware, and Burlington, New Jersey before studying theology under Samuel Stanhope Smith, president of Princeton College, shortly before a Presbyterian theological seminary was established at Princeton. Belville then served as pastor of Neshaminy Church in Bucks County from 1813-1838; for a number of years he also ran a boarding and day school in Neshaminy.
  • Alfred Henry Dashiell served congregations in Illinois and Tennessee before becoming President of Nashville Female Academy and then of Rogersville Tennessee College.
  • George Duffield was a pastor in Carlisle, Philadelphia, New York City, and Detroit; a scholar of languages and sciences as well as of theology, he wrote several books and became a regent of the University of Michigan; Penn recognized his accomplishments by awarding him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1841.
  • Samuel Wylie prepared for the ministry by studying under his uncle, Samuel Brown Wylie, at the Theological Seminary of Philadelphia; after his ordination in Pittsburgh, his work as a missionary in southern Illinois led to his fifty years of service as the pastor of Bethel Church in Eden, Illinois.

Thomas Cadwalader, he studied law and in 1817 was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. According to the Kentucky encyclopedia, after moving in 1819 to Lexington, Kentucky, Gratz gave up law to become a successful manufacturer of hemp. He also became involved in the 1830 development of the Lexington and Ohio Railway (serving as its second president) and in the founding of several banks. His philanthropy included the founding of Lexington’s orphan asylum and more than sixty years as a trustee of Transylvania College in Kentucky.

Three other lawyers in the class, all from prominent and wealthy families, became successful politicians, two in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland. Lynford Lardner was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature from1820 to 1821 and then from 1822 to 1824; as a member of the First Troop of Philadelphia City Cavalry he had earlier served in the War of 1812, including the Mt. Bull campaign near Elkton, Maryland. Richard Biddle, another lawyer in thClass of 1811 and the brother of Nicholas Biddle, married and settled in Pittsburgh, representing that city in the United State House from 1837 to 1841; Biddle was also an author, writing a biography of Charles Biddle and also, well living in England from 1827 to 1830, a memoir of Sebastian Cabot. The last lawyer in this group was Thomas King Carroll. He was elected to the Maryland legislature before serving as governor of Maryland from 1829 to 1831; he was related to Charles Carroll, one of the founding fathers of the United States, and his eldest daughter, Anna Ella Carroll, became a political pamphleteer and constitutional theorist who advised Lincoln during the Civil War.

The final professional group in this class consisted of three physicians, two of whom earned their medical degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. Isaac Clarkson Snowden earned his Penn M.D. in 1815; he was a successful Philadelphia physician who also pursued his literary interests, issuing the “Philadelphia Monthly Magazine” in 1827 and 1828 and being chosen a counselor of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1828. Samuel Duffield earned his Penn M.D. in 1817 before practicing medicine in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he was a founder of the Lancaster County Medical Society. The third physician, James Tilghman from Maryland, earned his M.D. someplace other than Penn before his early death in 1824.

List of Graduates of the Class of 1811

Note that there is no surviving record of the names of students who enrolled in classes but did not graduate. However, more information is available about the lives of these graduates before and after college in the “Student Backgrounds” section.

  • Joseph Barr (1791-1854)
  • Robert B. Bellville (1790-1845)
  • Thomas P. Bennett (life dates unknown)
  • Richard Biddle (1796-1847)
  • Clement Adam Buckley (1791-1868)
  • Thomas King Carroll (1793-1873)
  • Alfred Henry Dashiell (1793-1881)
  • Richard DeButts (1788-1816)
  • George Duffield (1794-1868)
  • Samuel Duffield (1795-1853)
  • Joseph Patterson Engles (1793-1861)
  • Charles Pemberton Fox (1792-1866)
  • Benjamin Gratz (1792-1868)
  • Samuel Blanchard How (1790-1868)
  • Lynford Lardner (1792-1834)
  • Rider Henry Radcliffe [Ratcliffe] (life dates unknown)
  • Thomas M. Ross (life dates unknown)
  • Isaac Clarkson Snowden (1791-1843)
  • James Tilghman (1792-1824)
  • Richard Clement Wood (life dates unknown)
  • Samuel Wylie (1791-1872)